Susan Sontag produces a riveting new volume of essays that reflects her polygamous interests in Where the Stress Falls
. The American writer, famous for her fiction, is equally prolific in her essay writing, including such titles as Against Interpretation
, Styles of Radical Will
and Illness as Metaphor
. These latest essays range from her take on the cultural philosopher Roland Barthes, accounts of working in Sarajevo, to the traditions of Western Gardens to the history of travel writing. As she writes of her youthful understanding of her craft, "my idea of a writer was someone who was interested in "everything"'. Perhaps most intriguingly, she revisits her 1966 book, (then her second publication), Against Interpretation
and provides an autobiographical context for her essays on Simone Weil, Albert Camus, Pavese and Michel Leiris. In these early works she saw herself as a "pugnacious aesthete and a barely closeted moralist". Sontag fought to pave the way for making photograph and cinema subjects worthy of serious cultural criticism.
Although several of these essays have been written in the last couple of years, many are reprinted from magazine articles and the book forms a thought-provoking collection rather than a selection of new writing. Given Sontag's outspoken views on the recent events in America and Afghanistan, it is rather frustrating that there isn't more of her political writing in this volume and it is hard to understand why certain "interludes" were chosen. But as always with Sontag, there is much for even the faint-hearted to savour and ponder. --Julie Wheelwright
It's nearly 40 years since Sontag published Against Interpretation, her influential (and still in print) collection of critical essays. Since then she has written novels, whilst continuing to work as a fine critic. Where the Stress Falls gathers together pieces on such writers as Borges, Barthes, W G Sebald and Joseph Brodsky - as well as others on film, photography, dance, travel writing, translation, and on directing Beckett in war-torn Sarajevo. What links together these and other pieces is Sontag's continuing passion for serious and groundbreaking art. The book itself is hardly as groundbreaking as Against Interpretation. In fact her commitment to such qualities as 'nobility' in writing and filmmaking is distinctly old-fashioned - though hardly the worse for that, in these almost always interesting and sometimes beautifully written essays.